Internal Palestinian politics and the peace process

Egypt has delivered invitations to Palestinian officials to a summit meeting of all the Palestinian factions for a “comprehensive national dialogue” in Cairo on 9 November. Egypt also sent along a draft plan, called The Palestinian National Project, for ending the political crisis caused by the fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

Details continue to emerge.

The Egyptian draft calls for the creation of a new Palestinian unity government. The Egyptian proposal also says that democracy is the only option for the principle of rotation of authority while respecting law and order and legitimacy, and it says that support for democracy requires political participation of all parties without quotas. Hamas has been asking for a share of seats in the Palestinian National Council that is proportional to the votes that it won in the last Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, when it beat Fatah in the balloting. The Egyptian proposal suggests a compromise on when to hold national elections, calling for simultaneous elections, but leaving the date open. It also proposes that the election law should be reviewed in accordance with the needs of the interest of the homeland. Fatah apparently wants both presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously in 2010 – with President Abbas apparently continuing in office until then. But Hamas says that Abbas’s term ends in January 2009, and has repeatedly said that it believes the present Palestinian Legislative Council must continue until the end of its term in January 2010. The Egyptian draft says the security apparatuses should be rebuilt on a professional and national basis away from factionalism, and that only the security apparatuses would be authorized to defend the homeland and the citizens, with “the required Arab assistance that is necessary to fulfill the process of building and reform”. And the Egyptian plan calls for the formation of committees to begin work immediately on all the proposals, saying that there is no restriction on an Arab participation in any of the committees upon the request of the organizations. The plan says the Palestine Liberation Organization should be re-activated according to a March 2005 Cairo agreement, to include all forces and factions. The Egyptian plan also calls for the election of a new Palestinian National Council “in the homeland and abroad, wherever it is possible”.

According to the proposed draft plan, the Palestinian political factions would agree that the management of the political negotiations is a prerogative of the PLO and the president of the PA. The plan says that any agreement resulting from these negotiations has to be presented before the Palestinian National Council for approval — or a referendum should be conducted “anywhere possible”.

This draft agreement seems to leave a lot of loopholes open – and seems to steer the reconciliation talks in the direction of having all the Palestinian parties conform with the Road Map and the desires of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators. Hamas has apparently expressed reservations on a number of items of the draft conciliation proposal. Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told AFP that Hamas would request some changes, but that it would “agree to the draft of the agreement and will not reject it, but there needs to be guarantees that what is agreed upon will be implemented,” Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told AFP. Some points need to be modified and some points need clarification, Barhoum said.

While the Egyptian plan proposes a reform of the Palestinian security forces, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported that Hamas has demanded the banishment of four security leaders who, Hamas says, are acting on a factional basis and who are the executors of a policy of arrests against Hamas leaders in the West Bank. By coincidence, YNet said, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also wants to replace two of them — Tawfik Tirawi, head of the PA General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, who would actually be promoted, and appointed Abbas’ special advisor on security affairs with the rank of minister, and Diab al-Ali, commander of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. However, YNet added, the PA is concerned the changes would be perceived as capitulation to Hamas.

Ma’an News Agency reported that Tirawi was in fact dismissed on Tuesday. Ramattan says that he was removed due to professional rivalries. But, Ma’an quoted its sources as denying what was published by local and international news websites about Abbas intention to appoint a new chief of national security in West Bank to replace Diab Al-Ali (Abu Al-Fatah).

Then, on Thursday, JPOST correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that “Fatah officials on Wednesday criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to dismiss Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, commander of the PA’s General Intelligence Service, noting that the timing was particularly ‘problematic’. Abbas summoned Tirawi late Tuesday night to a meeting in the Mukata ‘presidential’ compound and informed him of the decision to fire him. Abbas offered to appoint Tirawi as his ‘adviser’ on security affairs and to promote him to the status of minister. However, Tirawi said shortly after the meeting that he was not interested in the new job and that he plans to travel to the United Kingdom to study English”.

Khaled Abu Toameh also wrote that “Abbas’s decision to fire Tirawi is believed to be linked to the PA president’s desire to patch up his differences with Hamas. On the eve of the decision, Hamas officials said they had requested that Abbas get rid of Palestinian security commanders responsible for the massive crackdown on the movement’s members and institutions in the West Bank. Tirawi, along with several top PA security officials, had been entrusted by the PA leadership in Ramallah with taking precautionary measures to prevent Hamas from extending its control to the West Bank…A senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that his movement had indeed demanded that Abbas replace Tirawi and other PA security commanders in the West Bank to pave the way for ending the crisis with Fatah. ‘We welcome Abbas’s decision to fire Tirawi, who was responsible for security coordination with the Israelis and who was behind the brutal measures against Hamas [in the West Bank’, the official said. ‘We hope Abbas will take similar measures against all those security chiefs who chose to work with Israel and the Americans against our people’.” The official said his movement was now expecting Abbas to remove Diab al-Ali, commander of the PA’s National ecurity Force in the West Bank, who is also known as a sworn enemy of Hamas. Last month al-Ali raised eyebrows when he threatened that his forces would not hesitate to use force to overthrow the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah is very unhappy, according to Khaled Abu Toameh: ” ‘The timing of the decision to fire Tirawi was very bad’, a Fatah official in Ramallah told the Post. ‘It appears as if President Abbas took the decision to appease Hamas’. Another Fatah operative condemned Abbas’s decision as ‘dangerous’, claiming it would deepen divisions inside Fatah. ‘Many people in Fatah are unhappy with the decision’, he said. ‘They believe that Abbas made a huge mistake’. The Fatah official said he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas’s decision was linked to his desire to extend his term in office beyond January 2009. ‘Some are talking about a secret deal between Abbas and Hamas that allows him to remain in power after his term expires next January’, he said. ‘Hamas wants the heads of the security commanders in the West Bank in return for agreeing to the extension of Abbas’s term. This doesn’t look good’. A senior PA official denied the charges, saying the decision had nothing to do with Hamas’s demand for the dismissal of Tirawi and other commanders. The official said that the decision was taken because Tirawi had refused to report to the PA government of Salaam Fayad in the West Bank.
According to the official, the decision was taken in the context of the US-backed efforts to reform the PA security forces by reducing their number. He added that the proposed reforms call for merging Tirawi’s General Intelligence Service with the rival Preventative Security Force and turning them into a single force that reports directly to Fayad’s government”.
This analysis can be read in full in the Jerusalem Post

Mustafa Barghouti: Getting the Palestinian Legislative Council out of the freezer

Here is the full text of an interview I did yesterday in the Ramallah offices of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, headed by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Mubadara – Independent Palestine list, and who was Palestinian Authority Minister of Information under the short-lived National Unity Government that was disbanded just about a year ago after Hamas routed Fatah security forces in Gaza.

In this interview, Dr. Barghouti answers questions about the revival — at least in a limited role, at first — of the Palestine Legislative Council, and possible moves towards healing of the split between the West Bank and Gaza by national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas:

Question: Dr. Barghouti, I wanted to ask you first of all about the Palestinian Legislative Council. It reportedly met for the first time in a long time on the 5th of June, last Thursday and welcomed the initiative of President Abbas…

Answer (interrupting the question): Not exactly, no. We did not have a meeting of the Legislative Council. And that was not the purpose of the meeting. The meeting took place as a follow-up of a previous meeting which we had had between heads of different groups in the parliament, because we are very worried about the fact that there is a concentration of all the powers in Palestine in the hands of the government – whether in Gaza or in the West Bank, and both governments practically have eliminated the role of the Legislative Council. And what we are seeing is the government practicing legislative authority in addition to executive authority, although its status, legally, is questionable. We gathered to find a way, in a situation where one-third of the members of parliament are in Israeli jails, obstructing the possibility of reconvening the Council, and with the situation of division between the West Bank and Gaza, where both people cannot reach each other. In the situation of this paralysis caused by these factors, we have to find a way to bring back the role of the Legislative Council. And what we decided was to act although informally but effectively: we had a meeting with the participation of a good number of people from different factions, and we decided to create a committee that represents all the groups, including Fatah, Hamas, Mubadara, DFLP, all the people who are in the Council, to regain the supervisory as well as legislative role of the Council.

What we are doing is that, according to the law, each member of the Legislative Council is entitled to practice his duties, even if the Council is not meeting. So what we are doing is, collectively, translating this individual right into action – which means, we will have three major committees and they will start acting next week.

Continue reading Mustafa Barghouti: Getting the Palestinian Legislative Council out of the freezer

Salah Ta'amri – Senior Fatah Leader – Governor of Bethlehem

As part of the Annapolis process, a big investment conference is to be held later this month. It was clearly expected that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were to be well advanced by this stage – but they are not. So, the conference will be taking place in a surreal landscape, where there are daily – and nightly – incursions into Bethlehem by Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli security services, almost always ending with arrests, sometimes with deaths. Bethlehem’s governor, the legendary Fatah commander Salah Ta’amri, this is like a scene from a Chekov play, yet, he says, the conference should go on.

Yet, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is now making a major push to boost attendance at this Palestine Investment Conference, and announced that she will be sending a delegation co-headed by private U.S. investors including Palestinian Americans, and a senior U.S. State Department Official.

But, a recent World Bank paper destined for donor nations meeting in London this week said that “While the PA (Palestinian Authority) has moved ahead with its economic reforms, albeit slowly, there has been little progress on relaxing movement and access constraints”. The report said that the impact of these restrictions, including hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, “cannot be overestimated”, Reuters reported. So, the $7.7 billion pledged by donors in December may not have the intended effect, without major change.

In this interview, Ta’amri reflects on the upcoming investment conference, on the current situation, and on the past and the near future.


Question: How are preparations going for the Palestine Investment Conference that will be held in Bethlehem from 21-23 May?

Answer: Many people have their doubts about the conference, because of the closure, because of the Israeli measures, because of the lack of mobility for the Palestinians, because of The Wall. So, many Palestinians have their doubts about the possibilities of success of such a conference.

I believe it’s good to have this conference. I think it reflects support for the Palestinian people, political support. There is, there could be an opportunity for some investors, Palestinian investors. But the least I expect from this conference is, as I said to the local committee for the conference in Bethlehem yesterday, we’ll assume that two families want their son and daughter to get married in Bethlehem, and they booked every room in every hotel in Bethlehem. That is good.

Of course, we don’t have very high expectations from such a conference, again, not because there are no fields for investment – in fact, there are many fields for investment – but because of the Israeli measures. Even you as a reporter have difficulties in movement. That makes you imagine the difficulties Palestinians go through, whenever they move from one town to another.

So, I hope the conference will convene. I hope some cooperation between non-Palestinian investors and Palestinian investors takes place. Most of the guests or the investors who are coming from abroad, most of them are Palestinians, living abroad, and some Arabs, whether from the Gulf or from the States, or Latin America, or Europe. I think that is good. I think that is good. It is badly needed at this time of duress.

Q: Do you know who is coming?

A: So far, we haven’t verified the list. Over 350 guests are coming, so far. So far.

Q: Will it just be a conference of businessmen, or will there be political officials as well?

A: No, it’s business.

Q: And, are there specific investment opportunities that will be offered to them?

A: Yes, I think there are investments [investment proposals] for about $1.8 billion, almost $2 billion dollars.

Q: Are these Tony Blair’s proposals, these investment proposals?

A: No, the proposals came from the private sector, mainly the private sector, mainly the private sector. So far, in Bethlehem itself we have two major investment areas – cloth making and stone factories, and the handcrafts for Christmas. And, of course, tourism is the main investment when we talk about Bethlehem. But, although it will be convened in Bethlehem, it’s for the whole of Palestine.

Q: Do you have a breakdown?

A: No, it all depends. It depends on how things go during the conference, who connects with whom. It all depends also on the PR work of every investor. We’ll help them comment. They will know about every investor, whether those who came from abroad, or the local investors, they will know about each other, they can connect, they can plan together. But it’s mainly the private sector.

Q: Have you had contact with the Palestinians who are coming abroad for this meeting?

A: Yes, of course.

Q: Why would they come now, if they haven’t been willing to invest before?

A. To tell you the truth, many of them were very enthusiastic to come over the past 12 years and invest here, especially in Bethlehem 2000. But, the deterioration in the political situation made them refrain, and many of them had to leave. Again, it’s the Israeli measures, it’s the political situation that reflects itself on the economy, the lack of progress on the political track, all those are elements that hinder and sabotage any plans for major investment in Palestine.

Q: Are there going to be any guarantees for these investments, risk guarantees?

A: Well, I have no idea. With all honesty, regarding the Palestinians yes, if you talk about the law, yes, investments are guaranteed, are protected by the law. But, again, the freedom of mobility is not in the hands of the Authority, it’s in the hands of the Israelis. The borders are in the hands of the Israelis. So, we cannot give guarantees of freedom of mobility. It’s in the hands of the Israelis. And even the progress at the political level, it’s in the hands of the Israelis.

Q: Even the special measures that are being adopted for this conference, to facilitate the passage of the guests – do you thing they’ll be sufficient to make people comfortable, are they going to be driven around in buses, escorted by Israeli military jeeps with flashing lights? Are they going to have to take everything out of their suitcases when they come across Allenby Bridge?

A: Well, it all depends on the Israelis, I told you. I have no idea. They say they will make it easy, etc., the same way they said about roadblocks. They said they removed many roadblocks. In fact, from what we see in Bethlehem, no roadblocks were removed. We still are delayed at the main roadblock on the back road (Wadi Nar) between Bethlehem and Ramallah. And we see roadblocks everywhere around Bethlehem. And The Wall is still creeping on. So, they promised to make things easy – that’s what Dr. Abu Libdeh told me. But so far we haven’t seen any changes on the ground.

Q: Did they tell you what specific measures they were going to use to make things easy?
Did they make anything clear?

A: So far, no. I don’t have contacts with the Israelis, so I depend on what my colleagues tell me.

Q: Even for this conference, you don’t have contacts with them?

A: No. I don’t have contacts with them.

Q: Is it your choice?

A: It happened that way. In the past I had contacts with them. When I was in a prison camp, I was the main negotiator; I had contacts with them when I negotiated the departure of the deportees from the Church of the Nativity. I met with many Israeli officials when I was in the Legislative Council, at their request. But as a Governor, no, I don’t have contacts with them. There is a liaison officer (on the Palestinian side) who’s in charge of contacts with them.

Q: Is it a satisfactory arrangement, do you think?

A: Well, I mean, as long as it is implemented, it will be satisfactory, I think. But, will it be implemented or not? We have to wait and see.

Q: When Tony Blair stayed overnight in Bethlehem, he was actually right by The Wall, by the main checkpoint – just in case. But, that same night, there were Israeli arrests of citizens…

A: Oh, the incursions are every night. Every day there are Israeli incursions in Bethlehem.

Q: It’s actually a little bit bizarre, because the hotel people and everybody involved in the tourism sector is ecstatic that all the rooms in Bethlehem are actually full now and have been, and yet at the same time these incursions are going on now while the tourists are – what, ignoring them? I don’t understand…

A: [Laughing]. It is the surreal theater. It’s one of Chekov’s plays. We Palestinians are used to working / walking on a tightrope.

Q: Is it something you think the tourists should just be ignoring?

A: Sometimes, we have to. Or else we’ll go bananas. At some point, you need to ignore the occupation. Just ignore them, as if they are non-existent! If we don’t do that, we will not move forward, we will not even leave our homes. We will not even leave our bedrooms, even. We breathe danger. We drink in danger. We walk in danger, surrounded by danger. We plan for our future when there is a siege or a blockade, or a curfew – we have to do so. We have to ignore them. And we do.


Q: How do you feel about the present state of negotiations?

A: I did not negotiate, so I don’t know. But, from the statements of both sides, I don’t see any progress. They say there is no progress. So…

Q: They also say, oh, it’s secret, we’re not telling the journalists, and we’re not making it public – but there’s really progress behind closed doors.

A: Well, I’m not a journalist. I’m one of the leading figures in the Authority, and in Fateh, and the PLO, and I know there is no progress. They speak about reaching an agreement before the end of President Bush’s term, but I don’t see how, I don’t see how.

Q: What is the President [Abbas] doing, then?

A: He is doing the impossible, trying to make a breakthrough in the situation. He cannot, he doesn’t have the luxury of giving in to despair. I think he will give it some time before he stops to reassess the situation and take a stand, whether to go on or to say goodbye to negotiations or to go to the international community and ask them to come and take over. Things are not moving anywhere.

Q: Is President Abbas making the decisions himself, or is there, does he have a group of close advisers…

A: No, we have the Council of the PLO, the Central and the National Council of the PLO. He has the advisers. He has Fateh with all the hierarchies of Fatah. So, no, he doesn’t work in isolation.

Q: So, even in the negotiations, every decision he will have to take …

A: Of course, he cannot take decisions by himself. Abu Alaa’ is a member of the Central Committee of Fatah, and he was the speaker of the Legislative Council, he is the main figure in the Fatah organization and mobilization, and he is the chief negotiator. So there’s a group of very intelligent, very capable, people with the President.


Q: Why did you not meet Jimmy Carter when he was here? Why didn’t he come to Bethlehem?

A: [Laughing] Maybe he’s not a believer, to come to the Church of the Nativity. I don’t know. You’d better ask him. He didn’t come to Bethlehem…maybe he doesn’t go to Church. Does he? I thought he was religious. I think he’s religious. I like him. I think I met him during the first elections, when I ran for the Legislative Council…no, it was his daughter who came to Bethlehem. I like Carter. He represents the American people the way the American people think themselves to be, which they are not.

Q: What did you make of his meetings with Hamas?

A: Well, that was his own business, I mean. He’s free to meet with whoever he wants to meet with. And his intentions were good, and the man should be judged by his intentions and motives, and his intentions were good and honorable.

Q: Do you have any word of what happening in Cairo in the negotiations among the Palestinian factions and Egypt about a cease-fire?

A: To tell you the truth, I didn’t pay it much attention.

Q: Do you think it’s hopeless?

A. Not hopeless, I think it’s sometimes it’s … there are so many words but no deeds, and many of the statements do not reflect genuine thinking or genuine intentions. I mean, to say that we need, to reach a truce is very important. It will help our people in Gaza, it will ease up things for them. It’s unfair to make our people in Gaza go through what they are going through. And, if the Egyptians manage to reach an agreement of reconciliation between Hamas and the Israelis, that would be good…The situation in Gaza is tragic, and it will explode sooner or later.

Q: It may explode sooner – the situation with the fuel is terrible…

A: The fuel and everything. You know, everybody in the world is complaining about the increase in prices of bread, wheat, fuel, etc., without being under siege. So, you can imagine how things are in Gaza.

Q: Hamas, according to Reuters, is asking the Association of Petroleum station owners to release the fuel stored in Nahal Oz, but they are refusing because the quantities are not sufficient, and it gives them security problems at their gas stations that nobody protects them from. And, in Ramallah, Mojahad Salama said yesterday that Hamas took fuel from the Palestinian Authority depot…it’s completely chaotic.

A: Yeah, well, Hamas is politically-motivated in Gaza, and I don’t think it’s in their interest to allow fuel to come into Gaza. I think they are mobilizing the people in Gaza.
[Interruption for a phone call]

I’m reflecting my own views. I think this dialog between Fatah and Hamas, and between others and Hamas, I think it’s a dialog between the deaf. I believe the practical solution is elections. If Hamas wins again, that means this is the will of our people. Let them take over. Fatah can turn into the opposition. I hope in the next elections, the result would be more balanced, not like the one which Hamas won by a large majority. Hamas didn’t really … Hamas spoke about reform more than they spoke about resistance. Many Fatah people went for Hamas in the elections, as if they are taking revenge at themselves, at Fatah, at the Authority. They wanted reform. It’s not true that they adopted Hamas’s strategy of suicide bombings, and escalation in the military field. In brief, in my view, the last elections reflected the mood of the Palestinian people at a certain moment, and not the will of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people were in a certain mood, they elected Hamas, now I hope it’s different. We need a more balanced Legislative Council.

Q: Are the next elections going to be for the next president, or for the Legislative Council?

A: Both, it should be for both, at the same time. I don’t think there would be a break-through in the relations, a positive breakthrough in the relations between Fatah and Hamas before the elections.

Q: Will Mahmoud Abbas run again?

A: I don’t really know. That’s premature to tell.

Q: His term was supposed to end in 2009, at the beginning of 2009, and now there are reports that he either has already, or is considering, extending it by one year, until 2010…

A. That’s new. It could be. I am reflecting my own views. My own view, my own conviction: this is a dialog between the deaf. My own conviction: we need to drag ourselves without losing hope until we reach the time of the elections, new elections.

Q: What was interesting in Jimmy Carter’s summary of his trip was that he said he added to the agreements he got from Hamas a statement saying they would accept a peace deal that was approved by an elected government, as an alternative to ratification through a referendum. His OpEd in the New York Times this week seemed to suggest that Hamas meant even a new elected government, not going back to the now-disbanded National Unity Government.

A: Well, no government can be elected. Governments are not elected, governments are appointed. It is the Legislative Council that is elected. Anyway, I believe any agreement with Israel needs the people’s support. And, I don’t think Hamas accepts that; they don’t want that. Anyway, the situation is complex. It is in Israel’s favor. This split between Gaza and the West Bank is in Israel’s favor. Hamas will not give up their power in Gaza. It seems that it is true, they want to represent an Islamic model for the world. I hope that will not be the case. Hamas turned its back to our heritage, national heritage. That was a big mistake.

Q: What part of the national heritage did they turn their back on?

A: We are Palestinian Arabs. We are a national movement who did not become part of any regional alliance. We were not part of these conflicts, we were the mediators. And it was one of Arafat’s merits that he did not take sides, he was a mediator. He was a mediator between Algiers and Morocco, between Libya and Egypt, between at some point Syria and Iraq, and at some time between Iraq and Iran, between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. But Hamas launched us into the middle of a regional conflict, andsided with Iran. That means we lost our ability to be mediators. That means our issue was brought back to square number one. And they turned their back to all the agreement which were endorsed by the international community. It was not easy for us to be accepted by the international community. I remember the time when we were boycotted, even as students. And to become members of the United Nations, and to attend the General Assembly in the United Nations, to have more countries recognizing the PLO than Israel – that didn’t come without a price, that didn’t come without hard work on our part. Hamas can’t turn its back on this, and Hamas should build on what we have achieved.


Q: What about the plans for the Fatah Seventh General Conference?

A: Sixth, you mean. I hope it will come soon.

Q: What’s the problem? It was supposed to have been held already…

A: Yeah, because we have to bring thousands of cadres in one place from all over the world, from Australia to Canada, from India to China to Europe to Africa, from everywhere we have to bring our central cadres.

Q: Where will it be held, then?

A: Well, that is to be decided. It’s not easy. In the past we convened in Syria…yes, and it was not easy. It needs protection. I mean, you have all the leading cadres in one place. That is not easy. That is dangerous.

Q: What do you think is the safe place to hold it?

A: We need to look for the safe formula. Then, the safe place.

Q: Is it being held up though, more for political disagreements about who will succeed whom, who will be elected, this reported disputed between the Old Guard and the Young…

A: That could be in the minds of some people. I belong to the Old Guard. But I want the conference convened. I’m keen to see younger leaders taking over. But that doesn’t mean every Old Guard has the same way of thinking. Nor every Young Guard has the same way of thinking. You will find different people with different views, with different motives. But on the whole, I think it will be convened. We had a very important conference in Bethlehem less than a month ago, when the district elected their own leading body. Something like 1,500 members convened. And it was free elections. They elected from the smallest framework to the largest, at the level of the district.

Q: Was there any change in the composition of the bodies?

A: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Q: In what direction?

A: The old leading body, none of them came to the new leading body. Nobody came. And there are more women, which is good. There is a deeper representation of the community than before.

Q: Meaning?

A: I mean, the people from the villages could win, as well as people from the refugee camps, from Christians as well as from Muslims, which was good. And it was absolutely free, no intervention.

Q: And do these newly-elected younger members all have similar views, or are they very different from each other, and will have to find a common ground …

A: They are different. They are different. They are different from each other, they are different from [us]… Every generation has its own language. It applies to you, it applies to us, it applies to humanity. Every generation has its own language. Our generation had its own language. We loved poetry. We loved music. This generation, they talk computers. They breath computers, internet, etc. So it’s different, absolutely. They are different. Their minds are colder than our minds. We are more emotional. Our generation is more emotional than the new generation. We are more on the side of romanticism than the new generation. To us, 1 + 1 = 11. To them, , 1 + 1 = 2. Sometimes I feel that is the difference.

Q: In this new group that’s been elected, is there any difference between those who stayed here, and those who were on the outside and came back with Arafat?

A: No, I don’t think so. The only difference is in the collective memory. That’s all.
It is the collective memory that is different, that’s why it should be one of our objects to unify the memory, to create bridges between the collective memories of the Palestinians in the diaspora. The collective memory of Lebanon is different from the collective memory of the West Bank. The West Bank is different from Gaza, different from Syria, from Kuwait, etc. That’s the only difference – the collective memory.

Q: How do you think bridges can be built between these collective memories? Really, people here don’t know what you when through outside, they don’t know.

A: Well, by time they will know. By time, it will become part of our heritage.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: [Pause] Well, not deep regrets. I regret I smoked for 35 years.

Q: Have you stopped?

A: Oh, yes, six years ago. On small things, I have my own regrets, on small things. But not on major things in my life.

Q: And in terms of the movement, the Fatah movement, the Palestinian movement?

A: No, no, no, I have no regrets. I joined it when I was a kid, and I have no regrets. But on minor things, yes, I have regrets.


Q: Can I ask one last question? I know it’s a difficult one, and I’ve lost friends because of discussions of this very issue. But, when the matter was raised, before the Annapolis Conference, about the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinian reaction was so negative. I don’t understand…

A: Because it’s not a Jewish state, because there are non-Jews in it. And they are not a small minority.

Q: But for the people who feel insecure…

A: We are not going to respond to the Jewish paranoia. Every time they are paranoid about something, we have to cut our noses to please them. If they are paranoid, they’d better do something about it.

Q: But it doesn’t cost anything…

A: No, it does, to us it does.

Q: It doesn’t mean that the refugees can’t return. It doesn’t mean that the Arab citizens of Israel will be expelled…

A: Well, they cannot even talk about return.

Q. But if they feel deeply insecure about this …

A. That’s not our problem! No. That doesn’t show any kind of recognition of the Palestinian people’s rights by the Israelis. I mean, first of all, we pay the price for a crime that was not ours. We did not invent Nazism. Nazism was the invention of Europe, Christian Europe. And if Nazism won, we would have been second on the list to be uprooted, and terminated. We paid the price, the international community paid the price, not only the Jews. And that was not our invention. It was a European invention. Why should we pay the price for that?

Q: Because now, you have to live with them.

A: Yes, because we have to live with them, they have to accept the fact that, no, Israel is not a Jewish state, because when you say a Jewish state, that means tomorrow, yeah, go out! Leave! You will recognize us as a Jewish state, we do not want non-Jews amongst us.

Q: Maybe it doesn’t mean that …

A: Maybe it does.

Q: Can’t you ask for guarantees? Even international guarantees?

A: Well, we are not going to get any guarantees better than the guarantees – the mother and the four kids who were killed a couple of days ago, and the many Palestinian children who were killed, and the 12,000 prisoners who are in jail. No, I think the Israelis should deal with their paranoia, I think the world should also deal with their sensitivity and cowardice when it comes to Israel. Why should Israel get away with whatever they do?

We don’t hate the Jews. We hate occupation. It’s not my mistake, it’s not my fault that the occupiers are Jewish. We hate occupation. The minute they become non-occupiers, then we are not going to hate them. So, I believe this is a very sensitive issue to the Palestinians. We have our own insecurities. And this year we are celebrating 60 years of Nakbah. It started yesterday, and I don’t think Palestinians will forget their country, will forget their villages, the 380 villages which were uprooted, and disappeared from the face of the earth, for somebody coming from Poland living there.

They have the right to be afraid, they have the right…[No]. Their security lies in their positive and peaceful coexistence with us.

The saying goes: “We are doomed to be together”. We can turn it into: We are blessed to live together. It all depends on how do we educate ourselves, how do we accept each other.

But, coexistence as occupier and under occupation, like slaves and masters, it doesn’t go, it doesn’t work. Living under occupation is a form of slavery. And we cannot be, we don’t accept to be slaves forever. It’s whether we become free or not free. There’s no half-way between slavery and non-slavery.

To us, peace means freedom.


The Vanity Fair article cont'd

Henry Siegman, who is currently Director of the United States/Middle East Project at the Council on Foreign Relations, has said over the years some of the consistently most interesting and sensible things about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, CFR’s Consulting Editor, published on 7 March, Siegman spoke about the really sensational Vanity Fair article published last week. Interesting, too, that although he says the policy was clear to all who wished to know, he does NOT say, dismissively, (as some journalistic colleagues have) “oh, nothing new”:

“Q (Gwertzman): Do you buy into this view that is in a new Vanity Fair article that the United States planned, in cooperation with Fatah, to cause a coup in Gaza and throw out Hamas, and that backfired, leading to the current split between Fatah and Hamas?

A (Siegman): One does not need an investigative article to make that point to know it is true. The U.S. government made no secret whatsoever from the beginning that it intended to arm Abbas’s security forces, appoint an American general to be in charge of that program, and provide finances for training, equipment, and the arming of these people. They said publicly the purpose of this project would be for these people to have a showdown with Hamas and to oust them from the government. So, this was never a secret. This was always in the public domain.

Q: I never saw that— that they were so blatant to say they wanted Fatah to oust Hamas.

A: Yes, they were precisely that blatant. What happened next is that under the direction of Mohammed Dahlan, who was Abbas’s national security adviser, the Fatah militias in Gaza were instructed to attack Hamas forces and to create a sufficient level of anarchy that would allow Abbas’s security forces to come in and to say they have to restore order and take over the government in Gaza. This never was a secret. In any event, the Vanity Fair article pretty much nails down the story.

Q: When was this decision taken?

The decision, according to the article, was taken immediately after the election in January 2006. As the Vanity Fair story tells it, the State Department people and the White House were in a state of total shock when the election results came in. Hamas was overwhelmingly elected and Fatah was ousted. Incidentally, at this time, Hamas itself was still observing a self-declared cease-fire. They were not sending in missiles or engaging in violence against Israel. I mention this because a lot of people are under the impression that this decision to overthrow Hamas is somehow related to Hamas’ violence. That is simply not true. At the time this decision was taken, there was a cease-fire that Hamas had observed for a year and a half”… The CFR interview with Henry Siegman is published here .

Abbas suggests early elections to resolve stand-off with Hamas, Gaza

Haaretz has reported that “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Hamas Islamists on Monday to agree to early elections and to open a ‘new page’ by ceding control of the Gaza Strip and holding reconciliation talks with his Fatah faction. Reviving talk of early Palestinian elections for the first time in several months, Abbas said in a speech to mark the anniversary of the founding of Fatah that any vote should be held in agreement with his Hamas rivals. ‘I renew the option of early elections … and I pledge that I will do my best to ensure this election will be the product of a deep and brotherly understanding’, Abbas said. ‘I urge all, Fatah and Hamas movements and all other Palestinian factions, to study this alternative and not to rush, as usual, to reject it’. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, prompting Abbas to sack a Hamas-led unity government and appoint a Fatah-backed administration in the West Bank. The rift helped pave the way for U.S.-backed talks with Israel. Abbas said after Hamas’s Gaza takeover he wanted to call early elections. But it has been several months since he talked publicly about holding a ballot although his aides have raised the possibility of snap parliamentary and presidential polls. Hamas, which won a Palestinian parliamentary vote in 2006, opposes holding elections before they are due in 2010, saying it would be unconstitutional”.

Haaretz added that Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said about Abbas’ speech that “It is full of incitement and words calling for divisions … There is no new initiative or practical step in this speech that can pave the road to start an immediate dialogue.”

The Haaretz report on Abbas’ speech on the occasion of the 1 January anniversary of the founding of Fatah is here.

YNet reported that “Abbas also took a newly conciliatory tone toward his Hamas rivals, calling for a ”new page’ in relations between the bitter enemies. ‘There is no way for any party here to be an alternative to the other, and there is no room for terms like coup or military takeover, but only for dialogue, dialogue, dialogue’, Abbas said, referring to the Islamic militant Hamas’ violent rout of his Fatah forces and takeover of the Gaza Strip in June. Abbas maintained his position that Hamas must restore power in Gaza to an elected government. But he urged reconciliation and called for new elections in an effort to end the suffering the Palestinian people have endured as a result of the takeover. ‘I renew my offer for early elections here, as a way out of the hell that was imposed on us’, Abbas said Monday”… The YNet report is here.

Israeli forces kill Palestinian negotiator's bodyguard near Ramallah

Just hours after a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem, Israeli forces shot and killed Mu’tasem Sharif, a bodyguard of the head of the Palestinian negotiating team Ahmed Qureia (Abu Alaa’) in his home in the village of Beitunia, near Ramallah. Haaretz reported today that “The IDF said that Sharif opened fire on soldiers during an arrest operation, and they responded in kind, killing him … Sharif was suspected of smuggling weapons to Fatah’s military wing” … This Haaretz report is posted here.

Haaretz later posted an updated story reporting that “Israel has been limiting its operations in the West Bank, ruled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as it negotiates a peace agreement with Abbas’s moderate government … Late Thursday, the Israeli military sent a team into a suburb of Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’ government, to arrest one of Qureia’s bodyguards, a member of the Palestinian security forces who the military said was implicated in armed activity against Israel and had provided weapons to other militants. ‘He opened fire at troops and they fired back, killing him’, the IDF said. Palestinian security officials denied that the bodyguard, 23-year-old Mu’tasem Sharif fired at troops … The raid went ahead despite Israel’s decision to largely stop pursuing members of Abbas’ Fatah movement, which Israel is seeking to strengthen against its rivals, the Islamic militants of Hamas”. This Haaretz story is posted here.

The Palestinian independent news agency Ma’an reported that “Undercover Israeli forces killed a body guard assigned to protect the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, former Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei, in the West Bank town of Beituniya, near Ramallah on Friday morning. Medical sources confirmed that the victim was twenty-three-year-old Mu’tasim Ash-Sharif, an officer in the Palestinian Presidential Guards, the elite 17 Forces and one of Qurei’s personal guards. Witnesses said the undercover Israeli soldiers stormed Ash-Sharif’s house in Beituniya and shot him. The witnesses said Ash-Sharif did not resist his attackers. Ash-Sharif died in an ambulance en route to the government hospital in Ramallah. Ash-Sharif was not considered ‘wanted’ by Israel”…

Qureia later reportedly condemned the killing — though rather coolly. AP reported that “Qureia, a former Palestinian prime minister, condemned the operation. Israel is trying to hinder progress in talks ‘by doing the opposite of its commitments and pledges to the international community, the most dangerous of which is the continuous assassinations of Palestinian fighters’, he said in a statement Friday”. This AP report is published here.

Before the killing, Ma’an News Agency reported that “Qurei told the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper that negotiations have become possible after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged to stick to the Road Map peace plan during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday. Olmert pledged not to undermine the peace process, but stopped short of promising a complete halt on expansion of illegal West Bank settlements. New construction at the Jabal Abu Ghnaim settlement, known as Har Homa in Israel, near Bethlehem, has threatened to derail the negotiation. Qurei said the Israeli pledges were satisfactory to the Palestinians. He also said that Israel promised to consider reopening the closed Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem gradually. Abbas and Olmert tackled the issue of changing the Israeli standards for the release Palestinian prisoners, Qurei said”. Ma’an reported that Qureia said Israel pledged that it would reexamine rules that prohibit the release of certain prisoners, including those who Israel says have “blood on their hands”.

Hours later, it was announced that Israel had agreed to release 50 armored vehicles donated by Russia to be delivered to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. However, Israel will not permit gun turrets to be mounted on the armored vehicles. Palestinian Information Minister and acting Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said that the Palestinians would take the armored vehicles without mounted guns for the moment, and pursue the matter at some more appropriate time in the future.

Israeli FM Livni: If Fatah joins Hamas in Unity Government, negotiations with Israel will be off

Kol Israel Radio reported this evening that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told European Union Ambassadors in a briefing today that if Fatah and Hamas agree to form another “National Unity” Government, then Israel will call off its negotiations with the Palestinians.

Three days of mourning declared for Palestinian casualties in Gaza rally

At least 250,000 Palestinians gathered at the beach in Gaza City yesterday to commemorate the third anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat. The rally was called by Arafat’s Fatah organization. Hamas security officers were in control. As the rally ended, shots rang out. So far, there are 7 dead, and over 80 wounded.

Al-Jazeera is reporting over 100 wounded on its English-language website, with more casualties during funerals for the victims in Gaza on Monday.

Al Jazeera website

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, headed by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, has declared three days of mourning.

Continue reading Three days of mourning declared for Palestinian casualties in Gaza rally

Fighting breaks out in Gaza at memorial rally for Arafat

The Associated Press is reporting from Gaza that there have been many casualties in fighting that broke out today at a Fatah rally commemorating the third anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat. Figures are still coming in, but reports indicate that at least five persons have been killed, and 50 wounded.

It was the worst clash between the two largest Palestinian groups since Hamas routed Fatah in a military take-over of the Gaza Strip in mid-June.

AP reported that “Fatah officials accused Hamas forces of opening fire from the nearby Islamic University.  Hamas said its men had come under attack from Fatah gunmen and shot back”.

AP said in its report that: “The emotional memorial event for Arafat had given Fatah a rare chance to assemble its supporters in the Gaza Strip. Abbas has rejected any renewed dialogue with Hamas until the group relinquishes control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas has banned opposition rallies since its takeover of the territory but any move to prevent a remembrance ceremony for Arafat, the iconic leader who died on November 11, 2004, would have been widely unpopular among Palestinians … WAFA news agency, run by Abbas’s office, accused Hamas of stealing dozens of pictures of Arafat and 30,000 headdresses symbolizing the late leader, that came through an Israeli-run border crossing point earlier in the day. A pro-Hamas Internet site quoted a Hamas security official as saying trucks carrying yellow Fatah flags and hats were seized ‘at a time when the Gaza Strip is being deprived of basic goods and medicine’.” The AP report on the clashes and casualties at a Fatah rally in Gaza city is here

The most terrifying and emblematic image of the Hamas-Fatah fighting in Gaza

Amnesty International’s recent report, Torn Apart by factional strife, about the violations of Palestinian human rights as a result of the fighting between Hamas and Fatah, contains a detailed account of the most terrifying and emblematic image from last June’s combat in Gaza. First, Hamas threw somebody from Fatah off the top of a high-rise apartment buiding in Gaza City. Then, Fatah reciprocated.

These high-rise apartments were built only after the start of the Oslo Process between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which authorized the return of exiled Palestinian fighters from their camps in the deserts of Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan and elsewhere. These fighters were to serve as the security services of the Palestinian Authority that was set up by the Oslo Accords.

Here, from the Amnesty International report, is the “Testimony of F.H., a mechanic working with the Presidential Guard/Force 17:
On Sunday 10 June in the late morning, at about 10.30-11am, I and my colleague, Mohammed Swerki, who worked as a cook, were sent to deliver food to our colleagues who were in the Bacri Tower [a tall residential building in Gaza City]. However, we went to the wrong building by mistake; we went to the nearby Ghifari tower, where there was a Hamas group. When they opened the door downstairs we told them we were from Force 17 and they took us in and tied our hands and blindfolded us and took us upstairs; I don’t know if it was the top floor or one below. I don’t know if they were Qassam Brigades or Executive Force; they were dressed in black and masked. They asked me for names and telephone numbers of officers in Force 17 and which weapons they had and I said I didn’t know; I am a mechanic and my job was to repair cars and Mohammed was a cook; we were not involved in security issues. Then very quickly they left me and went to fight because they were being attacked by Force 17. Me and Mohammed were kept separate. At about 4 or 5 pm I heard screaming and the Hamas group came back to me and told me that Mohammed had fallen off the roof. They gave me water and allowed me to wash and pray. In the meantime some of my relatives had been alerted and there was intervention and someone came to get me and I was allowed to leave. Mohammed’s body was found in the street below the building; his hands were tied and he was blindfolded. He was 26 years old; he was married but did not yet have children’.

[n.b., when this writer was in Gaza last June, she heard that F.H. had been told, and believed, that he too was about to be thrown off the roof of the high-rise apartment building. He reportedly spent a long time in hospital, suffering from shock — and was unable to speak for many days]
Continue reading The most terrifying and emblematic image of the Hamas-Fatah fighting in Gaza